RALEIGH — Dozens of Raleigh taxpayers showed up at City Hall on Tuesday night to question the wisdom and the necessity of raising property taxes by 15 percent at a time when the economy is struggling and gas prices are soaring.
"Fifteen percent is unacceptable," said Don Ellington, 61, who lives in West Raleigh and estimated his county and city taxes could increase $300 this year. "It's beyond reasonable."
Ellington spoke at a public hearing to discuss City Manager Russell Allen's proposed $642 million budget, which made public two weeks ago. Allen's budget would raise Raleigh's tax rate by 5 cents to 38.17 cents per $100 of property value -- a 15 percent increase that would increase the tax bill for a $250,000 house by $125 annually.
Doug Lintelman, 49, told City Council members they should reduce spending by delaying one or more of the projects the city is about to undertake, including the the $226 million public safety center and a $223.5 million remote operations center.
Half of the proposed 5-cent property tax increase in Allen's budget would go toward paying debt service on the safety center, the remote operations center and other big-ticket items.
Allen has said a property tax rate increase is necessary because the downturn in the nation's economy has reduced the city's sales tax and inspection fee revenues by $5 million.
David Williams, a financial adviser who ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the City Council in October, said Raleigh isn't making a strong enough effort to cut costs and operate more efficiently.
"I submit the city needs to do a better job of living within its means," Williams said.
The public hearing Tuesday was also an opportunity for a variety of groups to tell the council why the city should fund their organizations.
Two representatives spoke on behalf of Raleigh police officers, asking that the council consider increasing the education incentive for officers, as well as the annual pay increase for those who have been on the force for 15 or more years. Allen's budget increases the starting salaries for some police and firefighters by 5 percent and adds 12 police officers.
The Raleigh Arts Commission is requesting that the city increase its arts funding from $4 a resident to $4.50 a resident. That 50-cent increase was not in Allen's budget proposal.
Several speakers acknowledged that officials face a difficult task in deciding whom to give money to during tight economic times.
Jill Staton Bullard, co-founder and CEO of the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, is asking the council to allocate $40,000, or the same amount it did last year.
Bullard said that if its funding remains the same, the food shuttle won't be able to serve nearly as many people next year because of rising fuel costs. But she added that she never considered asking the City Council for more money.
"I realize all the other needs," she said.
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